GOP Adviser Says McCain Is "Modest" Change

Ken Duberstein, Meet The Press
Meet The Press
Political Players is a weekly conversation with the leaders, consultants, and activists who shape American politics. This week, CBS News' Brian Goldsmith talked with former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein about the challenge facing Republicans this year--and whether Senator McCain can overcome concerns about his age, and match the public mood for change. Senator McCain is leading a delegation next week to Europe and the Middle East. Many Republicans have argued that it's more important for him to show passion about domestic issues than to go on another foreign trip. What do you think?

Ken Duberstein: I think it is always important for the candidate for president of the United States to demonstrate an absolute proficiency with national security and foreign policy. First and foremost, the president of the United States is there to protect and preserve the United States and its citizens.

I think this reinforces the image of John McCain, not only with gravitas, but as the foreign policy/national security adult in this contest for the presidency. I think there's ample time for John McCain to talk about his vision for the future that is fundamentally about the economy.

Because after all, what Americans vote for--first and foremost--is their pocketbook. What's in it, or what they wish were in it. And John McCain will have to spend lots of time this spring, summer and autumn talking about his plans for the economy. His plans on housing and job growth and job creation and health care. Obviously, change is the watch word this election season. What kind of change does McCain offer after President Bush?

Ken Duberstein: Well, I think that every election is a change election. The question is whether it is radical change or incremental change. You know, when Ronald Reagan was succeeded by George Herbert Walker Bush, he emphasized being a kinder, gentler president as a way to distinguish the change.

What John McCain is going to do, I think, is offer incremental change--not only on national security and foreign policy, but also on the domestic side, and stress the importance of job creation, the importance of the private sector, the importance of tax cuts.

And that the White House under John McCain can do a much better job on withholding federal spending. With John McCain you are not getting a 180 degree turn. But you are getting some modest adjustments, some refinements, some fine-tuning of what has happened in the previous eight years. The only time, since World War II, that a party has won a third consecutive term in the White House was actually while you were chief of staff in 1988. What do you think the Bush administration could do to be most supportive of the McCain campaign?

Ken Duberstein: I think the Bush White House has to ask the McCain people what they want, first and foremost, from Bush. I assume it is to govern well. I think the idea of using George Bush to raise money for the Republican Party is a healthy, productive way to employ George W. Bush on the campaign trial this summer and this autumn.

But I do not expect that you're going to see an awful lot of John McCain and George Bush campaigning shoulder to shoulder. This is John McCain's election. This isn't George Bush's election. Elections are about the future, not simply about the past. Now you were a McCain supporter in 2000. You were neutral this year. Is there a concern that the American people perceive him as too old for the job? And how can he counter that?

Ken Duberstein: Well, all I would say to you is John McCain, he may be 71, but he is as vigorous as a 40 year old. He is nonstop and makes those of us who are younger than he tired from the kind of pace that he keeps up. The last thing I am worried about is John McCain's health or his stamina.

I think he is in superb shape. And, you know, when Ronald Reagan was running for reelection in 1984, Mondale threatened to talk about his age. And Ronald Reagan, in that famous line in the debate, said that he was not going to exploit Mondale's youth and inexperience as issues in the campaign. It's pretty clear that primary campaign turnout has little or no bearing on general election outcomes. But the Democratic excitement this year, the record-setting turnouts all over the country, must concern you as a Republican.